EPHEMERAL SMILES

THEOLOGY / PHILOSOPHY / LITERATURE

God at work in ways that mean it can only be God

Today I preached in church again. Family and friends often like to read what I said, so here you go. I’ve edited out the bits that are particular to the specific church or unfit for digital public consumption.

Good morning. If you don’t know me already, my name’s _______, and I’m husband to _______, the Curate here, and Dad to ________, and I’m a part-time house-husband, writer and teacher.

I’m looking forward to a day when I will preach again without writing out my sermon, as I’ve done in the past, but since I’ve been looking after a four-year-old for the last four weeks of the Summer holidays I thought I had better write this out, as if I try to ad lib then who knows what might come out of my mouth…

*

What if everything that is described as having happened in this book [the Bible], in these books, actually happened, pretty much as it says it happened (except possibly for Genesis chapters 1-11, but let’s not get into that right now)?

I just want to pose that question to us to start with and leave it hanging at the back of our minds. I’ll come back to it later.

If you weren’t aware, we’re currently in the middle of a series on the story of Joseph in Genesis, following the Bible readings in the Church of England lectionary. [As a very quick aside, I’ve tried following the lectionary in my daily Bible reading before, but I find it hard to make sense of it. If you’re looking for a similar structured Bible reading aid, I highly recommend the Bible in One Year app from HTB church. It gives you three small chunks of Bible and some commentary each day, and with it you can read the whole Bible in one year in 15 minutes a day. I’ve been through it once, and it was excellent.]

Coming back to our series, so far Rachel has preached to us two weeks ago about how God worked in Joseph’s life despite his extremely messy and complicated extended family, and in last week’s all-age service Kay preached to us about how God still works in spite of unfairness and wants us to challenge unfairness to be agents of justice.

The heading I’ve been given to preach on this Sunday is ‘God at work…in ways that mean it can only be God’. I’ve been very fortunate both times I’ve preached at St Clement’s so far that I’ve been given absolute corkers of headings and passages to preach on, which makes preparation quite straightforward. This probably means that in the future I’ll be assigned to preach on a topic like hell, or Romans 9, but for now I’m happy to be preaching on this topic.

Why is this heading such a corker?

Well, it seems to me that ‘God working in ways that mean it can only be God’ is one very good way of describing the phenomena that led to the existence of Christianity in the first place, and that lead to people becoming and staying Christians at all.

How so? If God had never worked in ways that meant it could only be God, such as by for example creating the world, manoeuvring Joseph from a dungeon to being second-in-command-of-Egypt, or sending his Son to become a human, work miracles, and rise again from death, then Christianity would not exist at all.

If you’ll humour me, let’s just test this theory out briefly, though this is going to be a very bad test because I’m not going to ask people to feed back the results, so it’s going to be more of an anecdotal test: In a moment, I’m going to ask you to please turn to the person next to you and tell them the compressed, concise, one minute version of why you are a Christian, or if that’s too difficult or you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, which is fine, why you’re here this morning, in one minute, and then swap round and listen to your neighbour do the same. Before I do this: I’m a firm believer that you should never ask someone to do something that you’re not prepared to do yourself, so I will go first, which will also give you some thinking time:

I’m a Christian initially because I was raised a Christian, though I have had plenty of opportunities to turn my back on my faith over my life. I still sometimes struggle with doubts, but the main reasons that I’m still a Christian are because of the historical testimony about Jesus, because of personal spiritual experiences and because of contemporary reports of miracles worked in connection with Jesus’ name–in other words, because of God doing things that only God can do.

Now it’s your turn: Why are you a Christian or why are you here this morning? I’ll let you know when to swap after 1 minute…

3…2…1…. Alright. Hopefully that little exercise anecdotally backed up my theory, but even if it didn’t then I thought it would be fun to do anyway. Just to warn you, I will ask you to do something like that one more time in this sermon, towards the end. So if you don’t want to do something like that again you need to leave before the end.

Moving on, why is this passage that [Sean] read [Genesis Chapter 41] such a corker?

Well, I think this is self-evident. I mean, Joseph—what a story. Rags to riches. Prisoner to prime minister. Young-gun underdog to reconciled overlord. It’s no wonder that it’s been made into a stage musical and a film because it’s just such a good story.

However, this can also mean that it is so familiar to us that it just washes over us when we hear it, as well as triggering audial memories of a few Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. What might God have to say to us through the story of Joseph today, that will actually affect how we live our lives?

Let me try to suggest to us some things that God might be saying to us through this passage today, and I’m going to say them under three sub-headings in the form of three questions:

1. HOW SHOULD WE BEHAVE IN PRISON?

At the time when our passage opens, Joseph has recently been at one of the lowest points in his story, if not the lowest point. Having been sold into slavery by his brothers for being their father’s favourite, and parading and flaunting this, perhaps being a bit careless with his God-given dreams, he had worked his way up to a position of authority in his new owner’s household by being trustworthy, reliable and diligent. But then, when his owner’s wife had secretly invited him to—as last week’s all-age service children’s video put it—“do bad things” with her and he had refused, she had slandered him, apparently out of spite, and had him thrown into prison.

Now, this may be British understatement, but I can’t imagine that being thrown into prison unjustly would have felt very good. And in verse 14 and 15 of the previous chapter to the one we heard read, chapter 40, Joseph says to Pharaoh’s cupbearer, who for a time becomes his fellow prisoner and whose dream he interprets, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

I think we can infer from this, and common sense, that being in prison was difficult. Nevertheless, interestingly this ancient Hebrew story doesn’t dwell on how miserable it must have been for Joseph to be put in prison. It doesn’t tell us that he languished or moped or lamented, though he may well have done at times. Instead, it tells us, back in Chapter 39 verse 21, that ‘the LORD was with Joseph in prison and showed him kindness and granted him favour’.

Because what does Joseph do in prison? He does what he always does—he gets on with what he is given to do to the best of his ability, trustworthily, reliably, and diligently; he becomes the model prisoner and as a consequence he is given authority and made second-in-command. This kind of promotion happens three times in Joseph’s story, in slavery, in prison, and on his release in Egypt, and each time it is immediately preceded by hardship and crisis.

What are we to learn from this?

Well, I think one lesson is, if you find yourself in a prison, keep diligently seeking and serving God, just like Joseph did.

And another lesson is, it’s also right and good to pray and wait for liberation from the prison, because God has the power to set us free from our prisons, just as he did for Joseph.

So what prisons might we be trapped in?

Some Christians are literally trapped in prison. Thankfully, none of us here are, but for all I know, some of us might have been in the past. (Incidentally, if you ever want to visit other Christians who are trapped in a literal prison, as Jesus encourages us to do, speak to Jane Gerrard, who does this.) And we have all been trapped in the prison of lockdown in the recent past.

But on top of this, to allegorise this passage, we might be trapped in all sorts of other prisons: the prisons, say, of being stuck in a job we don’t enjoy, or physical and/or mental illness and disease, or relational problems, or addiction, or doubt, or debt, or an unfulfilled longing, or indecisiveness, or even just the prison of apathy and being too distracted by the cares of life to really care about whether we are in a spiritual prison or not.

I know that I have had some experience with virtually all of those imprisoning experiences, to a greater or lesser degree.

And in this passage I hear both those lessons: If you’re in a prison, keep seeking and serving God where you find yourself, and it’s also good to pray and wait for liberation, because God has the power to set us free from our prisons.

Now, I think it’s important to note, liberation from the prison may not happen in our lifetime—for example, as Kay reminded us last week, Paul was put in prison, and then executed for being a Christian—but liberation did happen for Joseph, and it just might for us too! And of course, in a sense we all find ourselves at this time trapped in the prisons of our own frail bodies, groaning along with the rest of creation for liberation from the suffering inherent in it, to be released into the glory of Heaven. For some of the more elderly members of our congregation, as far as I am aware, just being alive in an aging and unwell body can sometimes feel like being in a prison. And what do I hear God saying in this passage, if I can be so bold? Seek and serve God in the prison you find yourself in, and it’s also good and right to pray and wait for liberation.

2. WHAT IS GOD GOING TO USE TO GET US THROUGH AND OUT OF PRISON?

So there we go: Seek and serve God in your prison, and pray and wait for liberation. Easy. Although it’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it? Isn’t there anything else in this passage that can give us a clue as to how to go about doing those things? Any tips for life in prison, and possibly to speed along the process of getting out?

Because, once again, Joseph does get out of his prison.

So what is it that gets him out?

Well, put concisely, it’s God working in ways that can only be God.

But more specifically—it’s dreams and gifts. It’s dreams and gifts from God that get Joseph through and out of prison. His own, those of the cupbearer and baker, and Pharaoh’s.

Before we think about this a bit more and I attempt to allegorise this too, let me just say a few words about dreams and be really literal about them for a moment.

In the Bible, God often speaks to his people through dreams. This starts right back here in Genesis, and continues on all the way into the New Testament, the Testament in which we are currently living.

I am of the opinion, therefore, that God still sometimes speaks to his people through dreams today. In fact, believe it or not, I used to have dreams through which I believed God was speaking to me quite a lot, and though I haven’t had so many of those lately, just last week I had an odd experience that reminded me that God can speak through dreams.

*Dreams testimony about meeting Iain at Tim’s wedding last week

So there you go: I believe that God can still speak through dreams today, and there’s one small example. If you’ve never felt God speak to you through a dream, I encourage you to pray and ask God to speak to you through your dreams—because this is totally Biblical.

But now to allegorise this part of the story: What is it that gets Joseph through and out of his prison? His dreams, and his gifts. Even before he ends up in slavery and in prison, Joseph has a dream from God that he will be made great and his family will bow down to him, which he possibly rather foolishly shares with them. What must he have thought about that while he was in prison? I wonder if he held onto his belief in the truth of it? Because, for Joseph, eventually that dream came true.

But it wasn’t Joseph’s own dream that got him out of his prison and promoted to prime minister—it was the dreams of others, which he interpreted for them using his God-given gift of interpretation. Now again, the literal ‘gift of interpretation’ is listed in 1 Corinthians 12 among the New Testament spiritual gifts, as the ‘interpretation of languages’—and if you see dreams as a kind of language, that can include interpretation of dreams. So the literal gift of dream-interpretation is something that arguably we can seek after on New Testament terms.

But, to speak a little more allegorically again, we might also say more broadly that it is our God-given dreams and God-given gifts that get us through and out of prison. Joseph needed a dream from God to show him it was possible to get out of prison and he needed a gift from God to actually get him out. And we are the same. In my experience, speaking as—if you hadn’t guessed by now, someone raised in the charismatic Christian tradition, that is, a Christian who believes in the ongoing legitimate practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit—it’s a lot more fun and bearable being in a metaphorical prison when you have something to dream about, and when practicing the New Testament spiritual gifts.

So if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, this is the part of the sermon for you:

It may seem like the most terrible of cliches, but sometimes cliches have become cliches for a reason: Don’t give up on your God-given dreams. After all, Joseph’s God-given dream came true—eventually. But also: Don’t ignore or give up on the pursuit of spiritual gifts. After all, those are what God used to get Joseph out of prison. And here’s a thought: even if we are never freed from some of our prisons until we get to Heaven, isn’t it more fun to dream and to practice God’s gifts while we’re waiting anyway?

This brings me to my third and final sub-heading.

3. WHEN WE GET OUT OF PRISON, HOW ARE WE GOING TO HELP FEED THOSE THE FAMISHED?

When Joseph eventually got out of prison, what happened to him?

He was made second-in-command again, this time over the whole of Egypt, and he used what he had learned in the process of being liberated from prison to gather grain for himself so that when the prophesied famine came he and his family would have enough. Because of his gifts from God, he had enough to feed those who were famished.

And yes, one message from this is that sometimes God liberates us from prison and puts us in positions of authority where we can prosper and bless others.

But also:

When we get out of our prisons, are we going to forget those who are still in prison like the cupbearer did of Joseph (temporarily) or are we going to use what we have learned and the authority God has given to us as a result of being in prison to help those who are still in prison?

To suggest just a few examples…

If we’re freed from literal prison, are we going to go back in as a visitor?

If we’re freed from the prison of financial debt, are we going to be stingy and tight with our money, or generous and merciful, to help others out of debt?

If we’re freed from, or perhaps fortunate enough never to have to go into, the prison of poverty and hunger, then when the prophesied fuel price hikes and inflation and food shortages come, will we share our food with those who are famished?

If we’re freed from the prison of addiction, are we going to help those who still suffer inside it, as only we can do, since only we know what being trapped in it is like?

If we’re freed from the prison of vocational confusion and indecision, are we going to use what we’ve learned in the process to help others out of that same prison?

And perhaps most obviously for all of us who call ourselves Christians: If we’re freed from the prison of unforgiven wrongdoing and condemnation to death, are we going to forgive others too, and show others the way to discovering forgiveness and salvation in Christ?

By the way, if you don’t yet call yourself a Christian, then this is the part of this sermon that is for you: There is yet another prison that all of us are captive in and which Jesus can set us free from: the prison of unforgiven wrongdoing and the death that comes from it. Jesus can set you free from this prison, into forgiveness and eternal life. All it takes is believing that he can, and then making a decision of faith to trust in him.

So that, you may be pleased to hear, is about the sum total of what I have to say to you from Genesis 41 this morning. However, following this sermon, we would love to have a response time with the offer of prayer ministry, in other words the offer of someone praying with you one-to-one.  

Why?

I grew up going to a big charismatic-evangelical church not too far away where I was surrounded by people who professed to believe that everything that is described as having happened in this book happened, pretty much as it says. Which means that I was raised believing that God still does things like in Genesis 41 that only God can do.

Now, I’ve checked the church website again since I last preached and it still says that we are ‘seek after the transforming power of Jesus’, so I think I can get away with saying this. Also, when _______ was first sent the profile of our church when looking for a curacy, it was described somewhere as being an ‘open evangelical’ church. My question is, what are we ‘open’ to? What do we want to be open to? Not being evangelical? Being liberal? Maybe so. How about being open to ‘the experience and manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit’? How about being open to ‘God being at work in ways that mean it can only be God?’

In a moment, as I warned you earlier, I’m going to ask you to turn to your neighbour and tell them about something that God has done in your life, or the life of someone else you know, that only God could do. 

And again, to be fair, I’ll go first. Here’s a testimony of something I once saw God do in my life that I believe only God could do. This is one of my best testimonies: (As a quick aside, last time I preached I shared a story that involved a prophetic picture of pigs flying, and I wondered if I shouldn’t have, if it was casting ‘pearls before swine’. Then I realised it was actually the opposite, and I was casting ‘swine before pearls’.)

* Gloucester Green lady story

Now it’s your turn! 1 minute…1 minute…

I long to have more stories of God giving gifts like this to tell, because they make being in the prison of this body so much more fun. But in my experience, one only gets more stories like this to tell by stepping out and taking risks, in prayer and in action. So this is why we are offering prayer ministry today—not so that I can rack up more stories to insert into future sermons, but because in my experience, our experience, prayer is where the action is—this is how we see more of God at work doing things that mean it can only be God.

In the spirit of that, while preparing this sermon I spent some time asking God for some words of knowledge for whoever was going to be in the congregation here today. Now, as a big disclaimer, these have not come from conversations with ________ about confidential pastoral matters—which we don’t have, anyway!—but simply from me (and others?) praying and asking God for insight into what people might be struggling with here today.

So in a few moments, when we offer some prayer ministry while the band leads us in some worship [please come up, band], absolutely everyone is invited to come forward for prayer, but you are especially invited to come forward for prayer if you fall into any of these categories:

[…]

So in this response time, I warmly invite you to come to the front of the ________ aisle for someone to pray with you. Maybe lots of people will come forward for prayer, in which case please just form a British queue while we pray with people one at a time. Maybe nobody will come forward. Both are OK, though I know which outcome I am rooting for. We will be offering prayer ministry regardless. However, I just want to underline my invitation one more time and remind us that often it’s only in stepping out in faith and prayer that leads to us witnessing God doing what only God can do. Sometimes just having the courage to get out of your seat and walk to a different part of the room is an act of faith that God’s Spirit moves in response to. And—again, I know this all too well from my own experience—sometimes the prison is just being afraid to come forward—but it’s more fun to get up and dream and seek God’s gifts. If we do that then maybe, just maybe, God will do something in response that only God can do.  

Growing together with God: More than the sum of our parts

I preached in a church building today for the first time in a while. Here, for family and friends, is what I said. I’ve edited out the bits that are specific to the particular church or unfit for public consumption.

This sermon is part of the series we’ve been having on ‘Growing Together with God’ and the title I’ve been given to preach on this week is ‘Growing Together with God: More than the sum of our parts’. It’s been a while since I last preached in a church, so I’ve written this sermon out—with my apologies if you prefer a more conversational style of preaching.

I’m going to keep things Anglican this morning so I’ve got three simple points for us from this passage, and I think they actually serve in themselves as a miniature discipleship program for how to grow together with God. They are:

1. Offer yourself and be transformed

2. Find your gifts to the body and practice them

3. Devote yourself to others in love

Let’s turn to the first of those:

1. Offer yourself and be transformed

Have a look at verses 1-3 of Romans 12 again (and if you’ve got access to a Bible please keep it in front of you). What are these verses saying? To me, when I read them carefully it immediately becomes clear that it’s very important to pay attention to their exact wording—in particular which bits are active (we are being told to do them), and which bits are passive (we are being told they will happen to us if we do other things).

For example, I think it’s very important that they’re not saying:

‘Transform yourself and be offered as a living sacrifice.’

Why not?

Well, have you ever tried to transform yourself?

Let’s say you’ve got a character flaw, or a bad habit that won’t go away, or a recurring sin, or there’s a positive trait that you’d like to grow in, or a spiritual discipline you’d like to take up, and so you try to transform yourself. You focus on your goal, you grit your teeth, and you go ‘rrrrrrrrrrr’ and try to transform yourself for the better…

It doesn’t work, does it? That’s not transformation; that’s constipation.

Sure, it might get you so far. You might achieve something. But chances are while our external behaviour might change for a bit we won’t be transformed on the inside, and sooner or later the external change will disappear, and we might also just end up being sacrificed on the altar of our own self-will and selfish ambition as well.

That’s the wrong way round.

What does Paul’s letter to the Romans actually say? I’ve put the active parts in bold and underlined the passive parts.

OFFER (active) YOUR BODIES AS A LIVING SACRIFICE…TO GOD…(and) BE TRANSFORMED (passive) BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND

Church family: the Bible, God, Jesus is inviting you, me, us to fully dedicate our lives to God, as sacrifices to him. And God is saying that if we do this, he will transform us. That’s the way round it’s meant to be. And we can assume it’s implied, here and from the rest of scripture, that he will transform us for the better!

If you’re not yet a Christian, or if you haven’t fully given your life to God, this is the bit of this sermon for you:

Maybe like me you only come here because you’re dragged along by your partner, you quite like the music, and/or you get an hour’s free childcare (I’m joking by the way—I also come here for the free refreshments, when they’re available). What does Jesus say to you today? Jesus says to you: give your life to him and you will be transformed for the better. The Bible promises that if you give your life to Christ, he will give you forgiveness for yesterday, transformation today, and hope for everlasting life tomorrow, and that he will confirm all this by placing the deposit of his Holy Spirit inside you. I’m allowed to promise you those things from up here because God promises them in the Bible. So I urge you to give yourself to God today.

If (actually like me) you’ve been a Christian for a long time, then this is the bit of the especially sermon for you:

Church family, let’s remember that the measure we offer ourselves to God is also the measure that we will be transformed for the better. I have certainly known this to be true in my own life: Although I’ve been a Christian my whole life, it was only when at University I more completely offered myself to God that I more fully began to experience his transforming power in my life, even some miracles. And I know that, since then, not only the transforming power of God but also the degree to which I have felt alive at all has waxed and waned with the varying degree to which I have been given over to God at different times in my life. And just now I’m in a phase of wanting to rededicate myself to God more completely yet again, hence my taking the risk to come and preach to you this morning when I haven’t done this in a while.

Church, let’s remember that we are called and commanded to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Let’s remember that whether we’re a teacher or a writer or an engineer or a health worker or an accountant or a student or an academic or a homemaker or an administrator or a social worker or retired or a professional dog-collar wearing Christian or whatever we are in terms of our paid work that we are called to seek God’s Kingdom first. Let’s remember that we aren’t primarily called to be any of those things, but that the arenas that those different callings put us in are places where we are primarily called to bring God’s presence and be a witness for his Kingdom. This time tomorrow, we will all be bringing the presence of God somewhere, so let’s make the most of that! We are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices who are completely given over in loving dedication to God in everything that we do.

Paul says that this our proper, true and rational worship, that it doesn’t look like what the rest of the world is doing most of the time and that if we do this we will get renewed minds, better at working out what God’s will is, and better at carrying it out. I could spend longer unpacking all of that but I’ve only got fifteen minutes so let’s get on to point 2…

2. Find your gifts to the body and practice them

Once we’re in to the Christian life by offering ourselves to God (and we have to stay in, by the way, and get in again every day), let’s also remember there are things to do here.

There are both things to do out in the world, as I’ve just mentioned, and in church, which is what the rest of this passage focuses on. And this amazing passage, drawing on a metaphor that was often used in the ancient world, and which has famous parallels in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, reminds us that we don’t do these things as isolated individuals but as diverse parts of a wider body.

We all have a place to take and a part to play in the body, in our church family.

Like what? What parts do we have to play?

Does Paul mean things like playing in the worship band? Probably, yes (after all, there were worship leaders in Judaism, and the early Christians sang hymns). Helping with creche? Sure. Youth group? Yes. Sound and visuals? Yep. Reading? Yes. Welcoming? Yes.

Does he mean that everyone will do all of those things?

No.

Does he just mean that we will do those things?

No.

Does he mean that we should be packing out all of our non-work time with church commitments and bureaucratic meetings until we become completely exhausted and burnt-out and not good for anything else?

No.

The things I just listed now are all awesome and important things (and I do some of them) but they are not the things explicitly mentioned in this particular list in Romans.

Now, the list in Romans may not be exhaustive, in fact if we look at the parallel passages then it can’t be, but let’s look briefly at what’s actually in it:

1. Prophesying

I’m going to spend the longest on this one and then go much more quickly through the others (don’t worry), because Paul puts it first here, just like he prioritises it in 1 Corinthians 14, and because it’s the strangest one to us middle-of-the-road, British Christians.

What is ‘prophesying’? Prophesying doesn’t (necessarily) mean ‘telling the future’; prophesying, Biblically, means receiving and communicating a message from God for a particular time and place. Be assured, this happens in the New Testament, it’s in our passage today and it still happens sometimes genuinely today.

It’s not wacky, because God will never say something that contradicts the Bible or that isn’t for somebody’s benefit, and because it happens in a safe and accountable community.

[…]

Let’s go through the rest of the list of gifts in Romans 12 much more quickly, as the words are more familiar, and then I’ll wrap up:

2. Serving – this means ‘serving’. To be fair, many of things I listed before could probably fall under the general category of ‘serving’, but I still like the rhetorical effect of what I said earlier to try to help us to focus on the exact words of the passage.

3. Teaching – is pretty self-explanatory too. I’ve known since I was at least 20 that I was reluctantly called to be a teacher, both outside the church and in. Maybe you are called to teach in church or in your homegroup too.

4. Encouraging – this is where I think we start to see again that this list is non-exhaustive and a bit more general than just specific roles that are needed to happen in order for an Anglican church service to take place. If you want an example of an encourager in scripture, look at Barnabas in the Book of Acts.

5. Giving – is also self-explanatory, and I think refers to financial giving—to the church, to missions, to causes of special interest, and so on.

6. Leading – need not be restricted to MC’ing services on Sundays, which we tend to leave to the professionals, but I would judge also includes leading home groups, leading Bible studies, leading worship, helping lead the church on things like the Missions Committee and the PCC, or even as a Warden, and so on.

And last but never least, 7. Showing mercy – I think this has to do with special acts of generosity that involve alleviating the difficulties of those in poverty, what in the 21st century we might term ‘social justice’.

So there’s a whistle-stop tour of a very brief exegesis of this non-exhaustive list of metaphorical church body parts in Romans 12.

What’s the point?

The point is that we all have a place in the body and a part to play, and that together, under Christ the head, we are greater than the sum of our parts. So if you haven’t found what your part in the body is yet, ask God to show you and start having a go, because if you aren’t contributing your part to the body not only are you missing out on something you are born to do, but everyone else is also missing out on what you have to give them! Because in Christ we all belong to one another and we all need the gifts and contributions that each other has to bring. Read through that list again now, or at home, and ask God: which of these body parts am I? What have I got to offer the body of Christ that I am not yet contributing? What is God giving me the faith for, as I view myself with sober judgment? Don’t overreach, let’s not undersell ourselves either.

To close, this barely gives me enough time to land on my extremely brief final point:

3. Devote yourself to others in love

I don’t have much at all to say under this, except to observe that just as the parallel body-parts passage in 1 Corinthians 12 leads into Paul’s famous ‘hymn to love’, so this passage in Romans ends with a reminder that we bring our gifts to the body not for our own self-aggrandisement or glory, but in service and out of love.

So let’s finish this sermon by letting the words of the last two verses of the passage ring around our heads, and letting them orient, ground and centre us with commands that summarise and ultimately supersede the details of everything I’ve just said:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Amen.

‘BREAKING FREE’ IS PUBLISHED!

Happy #WorldPhilosophyDay 2021!

To celebrate this wonderful discipline of human enquiry where people grope around in the darkness without finding any firm answers, I’m releasing a new philosophical novel.

It’s called Breaking Free and it’s about a young man who grows up obsessed with trying to solve the age-old philosophical problem of determinism and free will.

There are three ways you can get it and, today, the first one is absolutely free

  1. To download the novel as an ebook to read on your ereader, tablet or phone, for free, enter your email address at luketarassenko.com  
  1. Or, if you would rather read it in paperback, you can get a fair trade copy by signing up as a ‘fair trader’ (or above) on my patreon page
  1. Or, if all the fair trade places are gone or you want to support me even more by giving me even more money, you can read a free sample and also get it as a Kindle ebook, paperback or hardback from the amazon store here

Enjoy!

Yours,

Dr L.I.T. Tarassenko (MA, MPhil, DPhil Oxon)

Teacher of RE and Philosophy, indie author

PRE-ORDERS FOR NEW BOOK NOW LIVE

An existentialist novel about free will and determinism

To pre-order your free ebook, head over to this link and enter your email address there: luketarassenko.com

To pre-order the ebook for money, go here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09J984774

If you want to buy the paperback version instead, sit tight as I will email out again when the book is published on 18th November (World Philosophy Day)

NEW BOOK COMING THIS NOVEMBER

I’m going to be publishing a new book in November, a philosophical novel.

If you sign your email address up at this link, I will send you an ebook of the novel when it is published, for FREE:https://littarassenkoauthor.wordpress.com/

I’ve been working on this book on and off for 17 years. Some of it has been published before in ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine.

New epic fantasy serial

Happy freedom day!

To celebrate, here’s what I’ve been doing to try and fail to keep myself sane during the pandemic: Writing an epic adventure fantasy novel.

I’m now going to be editing it and serialising it on substack from the start, one chapter a month. Sign up to receive it in your email for free at this link: http://faenon.substack.com

Some people say that Star Wars is basically Lord of the Rings in space; you can think of this as basically Star Wars in Middle Earth: It’s a got a naive, everyman farmboy (with PTSD and OCD) who grows to greatness; a precocious lightning-hurling princess who likes to lecture people; a lovable yet somewhat selfish skypirate captain/rogue; a little-bit-creepy wise old wizard who’s been around the block a few times; a gender-role defying gunslinging lady engineer (OK, I guess now the Star Wars character-parallels stop); and a ninja assassin with a substance abuse problem. It’s got magical jewels, elemental projection powers, airships, chocobos (birds you can ride) and a guy called Cid.

http://faenon.substack.com

MY PATREON IS TAKING OFF!

Now up to 6 patrons and $194 pledged per book!

New $5/book pledge tier added by popular demand!

Thank you to Dom, Carl, Sophie, Peter, Rachael and mystery patron!

$1/book, $10/book, $100/book pledge tiers all still available!

Help me hit my next goal of $200/book total so I can commission a decent cover for the next book I indie-publish!

Sign up here to get exclusive access to news, polls, early drafts, deleted scenes and extra short stories! –> patreon.com/luketarassenko

patreon.com/luketarassenko

SUPPORT ME ON PATREON!

Two years ago this month I was able to embark on a ‘literary mentorship’ with The Literary Consultancy, for which I am incredibly grateful.

This was a 30th birthday present enabled by the generosity of my wife and some other family and friends (thank you!), which I carried out alongside part-time househusbanding and schoolteaching.

When I started the mentorship, I had two indie-published novels on Kindle, one more draft novel in the trunk, and a drawer full of short stories, with absolutely nothing published by anyone else, and just one short story competition longlisting as my single ray of encouragement to keep writing (this was the same piece that got me on to the mentorship, and you can read it if you join my patreon).

Whilst doing the mentorship, in the last two years I have:

(and I document this as much to persuade myself that this time has been worthwhile as to add appeal to the invitation I am going to make to you at the end of this post)

-Written about 180,000 words, including about 100,000 words of a novel which I also heavily edited in response to my mentor’s and second reader’s feedback, and about 80,000 words of other short stories and projects

-Had three short stories published, including two for money(!) and one for no money but in an internationally circulated newsstand magazine

-Had one of those short stories come second place in an international flash fiction competition, and had another longlisting for a separate story for a different competition

-Been featured by TLC in their Talent Showcase

-And, best of all, as far as I’m concerned, had this feedback from my literary mentor, herself a prolificly published author: “I love it”;

-this feedback from my second reader who is a high-flying literary agent: “an enjoyable novel which managed to completely take me by surprise…”;

-and had a “near-miss” (also a verbatim quote) from another high profile literary agent to whom I subsequently submitted my manuscript.

Now, because of reasons, I’ve gone back to full-time paid work (teaching).

Apart from having less time with my girls, the only other sad thing about this is that it means I am going to have significantly less time for writing, if any.

So: Goodbye for now, writing! I will miss you. It may be that I am able take you up again in the holidays, or when my child(ren) is(/are) older, or when I retire(!), but I hope I will see you again one day.

Oh, and just one more thing…

I’ve submitted my latest novel to multiple literary agents, but it may be that is just not right or still just not good enough to get into that 1% of the thousands of submissions that agents receive in order for it to be taken on by one of them and eventually be house-published.

It may be that my novel writing skills are still just not strong enough (yet?) for my work to get house-published. It may be that I never get house-published.

That’s ok.

Regardless, to some degree or another, in the holidays or in the future, I’m going to carry on writing, getting better at writing, submitting my work to publishers and agents, and indie-publishing whatever isn’t published by someone else.

So, if you would like to support me in this endeavour and marginally increase the amount of time that I am able to spend on writing in the future, or slightly increase the likelihood of my books appearing in print in some form or another sooner rather than later, or just to cheer me on from the sidelines, please consider supporting me over here on my patreon page: patreon.com/luketarassenko

Patreon is a web platform which allows you to support creators directly and gain access to exclusive content.

(Please note that support is per book that I indie- or house-publish, as opposed to per month, and that it’s unlikely I will ever put out more than book a year.)

If you’re on board with this idea but don’t want to commit very much money at all to gain access to my exclusive posts, become a ‘tipper’ for $1.20/book–really not that much at all. (The 20c is just for VAT). Even seeing people just support me in this way is a huge encouragement, and you’ll get access to my exclusive patron-only posts.

If you want to read my books before anyone else with exclusive access to beta drafts and the chance to comment on them, become a Fair Trader for $10/book–you’ll also get sent a signed fairtrade copy of each book when it eventually appears at no extra cost.

Or, if you really believe in my writing and want to invest in it seriously, have exclusive chats with me about the stories and have a side character named after you, become one of up to 9 more Shareholders for $120/book!  One person has already done this and they’re not even one of my family members or someone that I see regularly!

Or if you just want to cheer me on, that’s great, thank you! Please check out my stuff, like this post to let me know you read it, and share it to help raise visibility!

Thanks for reading,

Luke

patreon.com/luketarassenko

SHORT STORY PUBLISHED IN DAILYSCIENCEFICTION

I am so excited to finally be able to share this with you!

https://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/other-worlds-sf/luke-tarassenko/its-a-parallel-universe-and-everyone-expresses-themselves-through-martial-arts

dsf

MY FINAL TLC MANUSCRIPT ASSESSMENT REPORT

TLC

Yesterday was a big deal for me. I received back the final assessment report for the manuscript I handed in six weeks ago to complete my mentorship with The Literary Consultancy.

Here’s some of what it said:

“an enjoyable novel which managed to completely take me by surprise…

your writing is accomplished and engaging and I think what you’re attempting here is very intriguing and clever…

I was very impressed when I got to the reveal which I hadn’t seen coming at all…

[your main character’s] voice is immediately engaging and he has some lovely, witty lines…

your writing is a real pleasure to read…

This is a really interesting novel with a cunning reveal which turns what the reader thinks they know on its head and I think if you can strengthen that early section so that the reader remains hooked and invested then this will be an exciting addition to the teen/YA market.”

Now of course, I’ve only quoted the most positive parts from it, but they carry even more weight when you consider that my assessor was a high-flying agent who directs her own literary agency and specialises in childrens’/YA fiction, Hannah Sheppard.

However, as you can see from the last sentence I quoted, the report also makes lots of editorial suggestions about how I could improve the manuscript even further, and ultimately judged that if I am going to sell it then I still need to do some more editing.

I was hoping for either the report to say that the MS was knock-out fantastic, so obviously I should carry on with it, or total crap, so obviously I should give up with it.

Unfortunately, and far more predictably, it has said something in between those things: It’s good, but it needs a bit more work to be good enough to sell.

My problem is: Can I find the time, motivation and energy to do this work while spending the majority of my time in lockdown looking after a toddler, pursuing online tutoring and with my return to full-time teaching looming in September? Should I?

Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.